Effective Leadership Coaching Starts with the Right Culture

An effective coach, working within a coaching culture, will help a leader achieve far more than if the leader were left to learn it from a book.

By Michael Stewart, Managing Partner, Work Effects

One area of human resources that has grown considerably in recent years is leadership coaching. Coaching leaders isn’t about teaching a leader to do the things they already know how to do but just a bit better. It is about putting the ball in the hands of their teammates and guiding them to victory.

According to the UK-based Institute of Leadership and Management study, “Creating a Coaching Culture,” “Coaching is a particularly powerful tool in the modern workplace—one that has proven to be a highly effective way of developing individual and organizational performance by unlocking capability.”

Effective leadership coaching starts with creating the right culture and having supportive senior management that believes it brings value to the organization. It also means coaching must not be limited to senior executives but be pushed downward throughout the organization, creating a coaching culture that benefits a broader population.

Coaching for leadership is about creating an environment that, through its leadership, can achieve a high level of performance. It is not about job training, skills development, or getting a new certification. It is about helping a leader be a better motivator, mentor, and change leader.

Think about the movie, The Kings Speech,that came out earlier this year. This was about the man who became King George VI and how his speech therapist, Lionel Logue, helped him overcome a severe stutter. It was also about how the therapist (coach) helped King George VI believe in himself so he could overcome his limitations and the British population’s belief he was unfit for the throne, and become the leader that had been hidden beneath. Through a coaching process, King George VI learned to trust himself and thereby overcome his stutter. King George VI wasn’t a poor leader. He just lacked the confidence to be a leader because everyone doubted him, and that doubt manifested itself through a speech impediment.

Within any corporate environment, there are hundreds of King George VIs just waiting to emerge with the proper coaching, yet too often organizations grab an internal manager and assign them to an employee so they will be coaxed into doing their job better. This isn’t coaching but skills training.

In 2009, the International Coach Federation Global Coaching Client Studyfound that “the vast majority (86 percent) of those (clients) able to calculate company ROI indicated that their company had at least made their money back…and the median company return was 700 percent.”

Proper leadership coaching can be used to help an organization achieve its goals and, at the same time, help the individual achieve his or her goals. An organization can facilitate a positive coaching culture by helping the individual leader improve in some important areas: better communications, conflict resolution, interpersonal skills, management abilities, and confidence building.

Too often, the organization’s goals trump the individual’s goals, leaving individuals to fend for themselves. Although an organization’s goals are important, leadership development coaching focuses on individual development, and, in turn, organizational development. What isn’t a focus in leadership development coaching are organizational priorities such as productivity and profitability. These are indirectly achieved through an individual’s improved leadership abilities.

The Biblical adage, “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime,” is apt even in the workplace. An effective coach, working within a coaching culture, will help a leader achieve far more than if the leader were left to learn it from a book.

To do that, an organization must lay the groundwork for coaching to be successful. Coaching without the proper culture is just piecemeal. It might help a few of your top leaders, but it won’t have the kind of impact it could have if that coaching were occurring within a supportive coaching culture.

In the elusive search for better ROI, a leadership coaching culture will go a long way toward achieving an organization’s objectives.

With more than 20 years of consulting experience, Michael Stewart is managing partner of Work Effects, a Minneapolis, MN-based human resources and management consultancy that builds better leaders and more trustworthy organizations through unique training, coaching, and assessment programs. For more information, visit http://www.work-effects.com.

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.